Welcome to the first in a thrilling series of confession stories! Bodices ripped, dramatic poses, skin shown! Of course, that is all in the Jimbo collection, so only the brave will go to see him in the Klinger outfit with pink fuzzy slippers. Or the insane, but…
Some of the events around my not being in Afghanistan have brought back some memories of lives past, and of the secret shame of my life and career (at least as it applies here, you want the secret shames of the rest of my life, that costs cash): I was an Air Force PAO.
For all that I pursued a dream of becoming an engineer (encouraged by Jimmy Doohan, no less) and astronaut, a lot of what I did and what I trained for was ground-based, as in perfect for the Green Machine. That may or may not play into this story, but it is important and will come up in other stories if not fully in this one.
When the original dream was left shredded and scattered on the ground by cruel calculus, I went to plan B. This involved doing science reporting, and working at places that would allow me to learn, have fun, and maybe get a finger into the back door.
I had started doing science journalism, mostly translating scientificese and engineerese into something vaguely approaching American (gave up on English years ago). A career in science journalism, at least starting out, qualified one for food stamps and more, I made the decision to jump into the dark side, and start doing science/high-tech/biomedical marketing and public relations. This led to one of the most strange and wonderful places around: Arnold Engineering Development Center.
AEDC, as it is better known, is an Air Force-managed contractor-operated R&D facility located in the middle of nowhere rural Tennessee. It was built there for two major and one minor reasons. First, there was a good supply of water nearby, which would be needed in very large quantities for testing. Second, thanks to TVA there was a large amount of electricity available at need. Third, the land was cheap since it had been the site of a WWII base. Oh, and did I mention that other than farms, critters, and woods, there was nothing close by? I did, okay then.
The contractor-operated part made life very interesting for the center. By the time I arrived, the contracts were split into three parts -- but this was still relatively new and two contractors, including the one that had been the sole contractor for many years, were duking it out trying to get the third part. Short version, they didn't get it and an a new contractor was brought in for base operations, including a desire on the part of the Air Force to upgrade PAO (and marketing) functions.
I was one of three (four?) people brought in to upgrade those operations. I am not counting the new manager for several reasons, but two of us were brought in to work the writing side. Okay, though not said in so many words, the marketing side. My cohort in crime on this was a former Bush Fellow in science journalism at MIT, and together we were supposed to bring in our experience in "the real world" to take things up more than one level.
Our office was one floor below the AF PAO office, as befitted our place on the food chain. The office upstairs had two enlisted and a lead officer for PAO. I honestly can't remember much about the second enlisted slot, and think we had a couple of people in it and that it may have been vacant some of the time. The PAO lead was a major who surprised me both with some of what she knew and some of what she didn"t know -- particularly about the Air Force and the various jobs it did. If there was a complete opposite of a figher jock/geek, Maj. B was it. Of her later replacement, a non-entity who had worked once at Intergraph, the less said the better.
All the PAO functions went through the AF office. All most all of the plans/planning, writing, editing, marketing to publications, and such went through ours. In my time there, I ended up doing/managing disaster preparedness planning, office automation (IT) planning, and a few other odds and ends. Another part of our office took care of tours, speakers/speaking, and such. The Air Force got involved in giving the tours only when it was a super-media type or a serious VIP.
Now, let me be clear, we worked everything through the AF office, but our office did all the grunt work and supported the operations we didn't do ourselves. We did this while working with two other contractors on the testing side that hated our guts, wanted the contract, and were quite happy to shiv anyone they could to further that goal (or at least some of their key people were). A low-stress situation it was not, and towards the end it got beyond bizarre from my viewpoint.
I'm proud of what we did, especially in that first year. We changed the style and way they did press releases; the way those were duplicated and distributed; implemented a tracking system; and, we developed goals and a target list (approved by the Air Force) to make those happen. And, we pretty well met or exceeded all our target goals.
Some of that was interesting, as we tried to convince some major players in the defense and science journalism fields that things really had changed there, and that they really didn't know all that was done there -- much less this great story that was taking place now.
We then fought the battles inside and with external PAO operations that some things were time sensitive, and that we really did want and need those people to get info, get a tour, etc. My cohort in crime Catherine did the majority of media stalking, and we tag-teamed a few people.
Ultimately, we were successful, getting some good play and interest from AvLeak and other publications that were on the target list. We had a significant jump in column inches of coverage, positive coverage, and otherwise made good strides in trying to make AEDC known, instead of the best kept secret in the Air Force. I still joke that it is, because your average person still hasn't heard of it and, sadly, neither have some in the industry.
So, though I wasn't Air Force, I was hired for and did PAO work for the Air Force. It was fun, it was interesting, it was infuriating and frustrating, and it was the first time I ended up having to read and sign a copy of the National Security Act. That's another story for another day. While I was glad to leave when I did, for the politics had turned decidedly dangerous with games being played with OSI and others, I was also sad in that working there was a bit of a geek's dream.
For now though, don't hate. I am now good and solid Green Machine, but in my "hidden" past, I was that lowest of the low -- a paid PAO for the Air Force.